Johann Sebastian Bach

Toccata and Fugue, for organ in F major, BWV 540 (BC J39, 55, 73)

    Description by John Palmer

    Most of Bach's works for the organ date from his years in Weimar (1708-1717). This period witnessed a tremendous development in his compositional style, particularly in the realm of the freely composed preludes or toccatas and fugues -- those not based on preexisting chorales.

    The fugue and toccata of BWV 540 were each published individually during the eighteenth century; many believe the toccata to have been written apart from, and probably after, the fugue -- a possibility that has led many to perform the pieces alone. This is not difficult to justify, for each is a self-contained masterwork. Together, they form what many believe to be Bach's best composition in the prelude and fugue genre, and they have both enjoyed great popularity.

    It is possible the toccata was written for an organ other than the one Bach used in Weimar; the highest pedal pitch in the piece was not available on that organ. It was, however, to be found in Weissenfels and at one of the churches in Köthen. The piece is immense and, at 450 measures in length, can hardly be heard as a "prelude." Bravura passages for both the hands and feet take the listener through various harmonic areas in this expansive work, which derives its rhythmic drive from a persistent, Italianate figure. Neapolitan sixths, averted cadences, and sequences contribute to the tension of a sustained climax in the second half of the toccata.

    The fugue is actually a double-fugue that presents a stark contrast to the preceding toccata. Harmonic daring characterizes the piece: an unresolved dissonance in the second measure sets the precedent for numerous other such instances, including accented non-harmonic tones. After the four-voice exposition -- with both a subject and countersubject -- has run its course, a complete counter-exposition begins. Instead of continuing with an independent episode, Bach writes another fugal section, with a new, lively subject, featuring entries that move through minor keys, including the dominant minor. Throughout this second fugue, the pedal is absent, infusing the succession of entries and episodes with a sense of anticipation, or preparation, of something to come. This turns out to be just the function of the section when the first subject and its countersubject return, almost stealthily, in the midst of the contrapuntal texture. The return of the first fugue does not assert itself, however, until its first answer, which is accompanied in the pedal (finally) by the subject of the second fugue. Bach truncates and distorts this second subject as six more entries of the first subject float around the tonic before a final statement, with a powerful pedal entry, closes the piece.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Toccata
    2. Fugue

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Claves 501107
    2016 La Dolce Volta LDV 201
    2016 MSR Classics MS 1562
    2015 Ligia LIDI 0104274
    2015 MSR Classics MS 1444
    2015 Priory Records PRCD 1130
    2014 Brilliant Classics 94850BR
    2013 Rondeau ROP 6046
    2013 Coro COR 16112
    2013 Dynamic CDS 738
    2013 K-Tel 93251
    2012 Querstand VKJK 1218
    2011 Audite 92548
    2011 Erato 2564676018
    2011 Antes Edition / Zebralution
    2010 Brilliant Classics 94050
    2010 Dorian 92104
    2010 Hyperion 64409
    2010 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4778628
    2010 DG Deutsche Grammophon 477 862-8
    2010 Apex 256467940
    2010 Hyperion CDA 30004
    2010 Telarc
    2009 Ricercar 289
    2009 EMI Classics
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099926428
    2009 Ramée 0903
    2009 Calliope 5718
    2009 X5 Music Group 14359
    2008 Regent 258
    2008 Maestro Music 4696560
    2008 MDG 3411511
    2008 Audite 92560
    2008 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4694202
    2007 Musical Concepts 191
    2007 BIS 1527/28
    2007 Analekta 24022-43
    2007 Challenge Classics 72153
    2007 Aeolus Music 10111
    2007 Pro Organo 7166
    2007 Cascade Records 2100
    2007 Erato 4699028
    2006 Brilliant 93102
    2006 Brilliant 99697
    2006 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4767814
    2006 Warner Classics 4636712
    2006 Raven 875
    2006 Arsis 405
    2005 Berlin Classics 0032912BC
    2005 Priory Records 800
    2005 Direct Source 4438
    2005 OrganArts 5001
    2004 Telarc Distribution 80637
    2004 Sony Classical 92769
    2004 DG Archiv 000185602
    2004 Raven 690
    2003 Art & Music 1539/58
    2003 Sony Music Distribution 87983
    2003 Leipzig 1800
    2003 Direct Source 1654
    2002 Disques Pierre Verany 710811
    2002 Delos 3148
    2002 Hyperion 44121/36
    2001 Loft Recordings 1023
    2001 Ornament 11445
    2001 Direct Source / Direct Source Special 3378
    2000 Kleos Classics 5107
    2000 Amadis 7144
    2000 Harmonia Mundi 907249
    2000 DG Archiv 463712
    2000 EMI Music Distribution 73878
    2000 Simax 1152
    2000 Danacord 432
    1999 Teldec 25705
    1999 Teldec 25704
    1999 Harmonia Mundi 290772
    1999 Teldec 3984-25713-2
    1999 Valois 4425
    1999 Berlin Classics 0093662
    1999 Quicksilva 6231
    1999 Haenssler 92098
    1999 DG Archiv 419904
    1999 Gothic Records 49104
    1999 Berlin Classics 0094102
    1999 Cantate 57619
    1997 DG Deutsche Grammophon 453 064-2GTA2
    1997 Carlton Classics 00402
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 4760
    1997 Gothic Records 49093
    1996 Telarc Distribution 80385
    1996 Cedille Records 6
    1995 London 444410
    1995 EMI Music Distribution CD-CFPSD4760
    1995 Raven 330
    1995 Raven 250
    1995 Naxos 553135
    1994 Nimbus 5400
    1994 Disques Pierre Verany 730001
    1994 Erato 96358
    1994 Erato 96745
    1993 DG Deutsche Grammophon 435381
    1993 Dorian 90151
    1992 Moss Music Group 5059
    1992 Moss Music Group / Vox 5013
    1990 Telarc Distribution 80049
    1990 Hyperion 66434
    1988 CBS Records 42644
    1988 CBS Records 42643
    1986 Newport Classic 60002
    1984 DG Archiv 410999
    1983 Telarc Distribution 80049
    1982 Valois 4416
    Brilliant 93102-VOL6
    Brilliant 99706
    Brilliant 93102/151
    Analekta 4027
    REM 311144
    Erato 91931
    DG Deutsche Grammophon 403302
    Edel Records 1811
    Teldec
    Ligia 104069/70
    Brilliant 99706/13
    Ligia 104081
    EMI Music Distribution
    DG Archiv 463713
    London 421337
    Vox 5013
    Erato 45257
    Hyperion 44124
    Disques Pierre Verany 785021
    DG Archiv 413638
    Cascade Records 2137
    Vox 5059
    Excelsior Recordings 5342